Children drawn from rural schools learn to use computers

“There is one computer at our school but we are never allowed to touch it,” says Reshma, a 15-year-old from a government school in a village in Karur district. “The first time I saw a computer was when I came to Tiruchi,” says Karuna, her fellow student at the government-sponsored Young Student Scientist Programme (YSSP). While there has been a debate on children opening personal accounts on social media, children from government schools in villages hardly get to operate, touch, and even see a computer till they are past high school, going by the account of students enrolled under the YSSP at St. Joseph’s College.

Lack of basic computer usage puts them at a disadvantage when compared to their urban counterparts, they feel.

“I went online for the first time in my life,” says a thrilled Reshma, who now has an e-mail ID and promptly locates her village with Google Maps, thanks to her selection as one of the 80 candidates from Tiruchi and Karur for YSSP, sponsored by the Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology.

Beyond classrooms

The programme intends to instil in rural students a keen interest in basic sciences by exposing them to scientific teaching and research facilities at higher educational institutions.

Students explore concepts in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Computer Science in the mornings while afternoons find them conducting experiments in the college labs. Weekends are devoted to field visits and trips.

“We ensure students get a good grasp of fundamental concepts, which is lacking in many schools in rural parts,” says Joseph Stephen, coordinator, SHEPHERD, extension department of St. Joseph’s College.

The college is one of the five centres identified in the State to coordinate the residential programme and sponsors food and accommodation.

“In school, we are expected to learn what is in the textbook,” says Anish.

“Here, we can ask any question we want.” Teresa looks forward to the practical sessions every day.

“The first time I attempted the practicals in school was at the exam. Though the teacher demonstrated the experiments, we never had an opportunity to try them out.” The informal atmosphere of the classrooms allows children to interact freely, believes Leo Stanley, assistant professor, Chemistry.

The students will display exhibits at the end of 20 days of phase two of the programme. The first phase was held the preceding year.

Although there is no formal follow-up on students who have completed the programme in previous years, personal feedback from teachers has been encouraging, says Fr. Aruldoss, director, SHEPHERD.

A few students have gone on to pursue higher studies in the sciences, he adds.

If the careers the students are motivated to pursue are a benchmark of the programme’s success, the choices listed by students include herbal medicine, pharmaceutical and aeronautical sciences. Some like Teresa, whose role model is Sunita Williams, have a clear road map — subjects to opt for in Class XI, colleges to apply for, and various ISRO programmes are all imprinted clearly in her mind.